SEO and SEM techniques are vast topics that are debated far and wide across the web. Keyword research, keyword optimisation, page ranks, conversation rates, link building strategies, all of these are discussed in depth by many sites, blogs and renowned professionals in the online marketing industry, openly and frankly. However, one thing that seems to be shrouded in mystery and hidden in shadow is the very rarely mentioned, and often frowned upon, concept of the link wheel. Odd considering as I’d bet that a vast number of PR and marketing agencies around the world use them.
The result is your own little mini network of web sites designed to fool Google that other people out there actually care about what you have to say
What the heck is a link wheel?
Based upon the concept of back links and link building, link wheels are artificially made inbound link producers. Instead of genuine ‘real’ sites naturally linking to your content because, y’know, the author liked the sound of your stuff, they are sites which you or your agency or hired agency created specifically for the sole purpose of linking back to a particular resource. They get populated with a few articles of unremarkable content, their creation staggered over a period of time and the sites themselves hosted on different server across the globe all (seemingly) randomly interlinking with each other (it’s probably worth pointing out at this stage to those that don’t already know that inbound links to a site is a large factor when calculating search engine positions). The result is your own little mini network of web sites designed to fool Google that other people out there actually care about what you have to say and, thus, lend you their authority to boost your own.
Grey areas of SEO etiquette
Some people may call this cheating and, well, they’re probably right. Still, it’s a very grey area of SEO etiquette, especially when you being to look closely at the other popular ways of accruing inbound links to a site. Is offering to manually exchange links with other sites really any different from publishing your own unique content under different guises? Is leaving hundreds of comments across random sites in a hope to picking up a successful back link any less reprehensible? And what about all of the web designers and agencies out there who are already innocently creating their own network of link wheels by applying their ‘site designed by X’ link to the bottom of every web site they publish? Is that an unscrupulous act deserving of punishment?
Ultimately it’s very difficult to draw a line in the sand between what’s right and what’s wrong in SEO, much of it either boiling down to ones personal preference or the guidance that the Google Gods lay down for us. And whilst some activities (such as the infamous act of link buying) are explicitly prohibited, others such as link wheeling don’t tend to have any hard or fast law applied to them.
The Morality Issue
At Primate we’ve talked a lot recently about the morality issues behind link wheels and whether or not it’s a strategy we want to employ. They are, ultimately, very effective and by all accounts a huge part of any ‘normal’ online marketing or PR strategy. At the end of the day, tactics like this are how you can (more easily) generate effective results. Instead of relying on the content of the targeted site itself or an already fertile and widespread distribution network (i.e. massive mailing lists and huge Twitter audiences), simply spinning a link wheel will help boost inbound links and get your site noticed faster. And that’s what matters right? I mean, if no one knows about your site in the first place, how will find it to ever decide if they like it?
The dilemma though lies in how one perceives the industry as a whole. Is it a marketing game to be mastered under the concept of getting new content out there to as many people as possible and then letting them decide if they like it? Or should content be sacred with honesty and genuinity prized above all else under the mantra that quality will always eventually attract attention without trying? It’s difficult to gauge and maybe impossible to answer completely but, I suppose, my gut says that truly effective online marketing campaigns need a little bit from both schools of thought to succeed.